How to read and understand a pesticide label

Person spraying product

While pesticides should be used as a last resort, the use of insecticides, herbicides, rodenticides and fungicides are sometimes warranted for use in the home, yard and garden. Once you have positively identified the pest that you intend to manage, research-based recommendations may include chemical control options. However, those recommendations are for active ingredients, and your task will then be to find an appropriate product.

Where to Find Pesticides for Use in the Home, Yard and Garden

All pesticides sold within New Hampshire must be registered with the NH Department of Agriculture, Markets and Food, Division of Pesticide Control. As part of that registration process, products are categorized as restricted, general, or specialty/household. Restricted use products are only available to licensed pesticide applicators, but anyone can purchase general use and specialty/household products.

Registered pesticides are sold in stores ranging from garden centers to convenience stores and are also available for purchase online. Garden centers and hardware stores often have the largest selection of products and have knowledgeable staff that are familiar with their products.

In the UNH Extension Home Fruit Spray Schedule, a guide for disease and insect control measures intended for home gardeners, active ingredients and timing are recommended for a variety of insect pests and diseases that afflict tree and small fruits like apples, peaches and blueberries. If you have black rot on your grapes, you will see that the home fruit spray schedule lists captan, copper soap and myclobutanil as effective chemical control options. However, if you visit your local garden center, you may not find products with these chemistries in the name because those are active ingredients in fungicide products, not brand names. Whether you are looking at products in a store or online, pay close attention to the information about the product on the product’s EPA registration label, including its active ingredient(s).

How to Read a Pesticide Label

For EPA registered pesticide products, each product label will have the same basic components. If you are looking at products in the store, you will have to open the label affixed on the product in order to see these components. If you are looking at products online, you may have to visit another website to access the online version of the label. You can find any label on the EPA’s Pesticide Labels website.

Please note that there may be additional documents that accompany the label and are considered part of the label, so read carefully.

  1. Product, brand, or trade name. The product name is usually in large bold print and used for advertising and promotional purposes. Every manufacturer has trade names for its pesticide products. Different manufacturers have different trade names for products that contain the same active ingredient. The active ingredient indicates the chemical(s) in a product that kill or control the pest.
  2. Types of pesticides. This short statement will indicate in general terms what the pesticide will control. There are different types of pesticides and they are classified as to the target pest they prevent or control. Fungicides prevent diseases, insecticides control insects and herbicides control weeds.
  3. Classification. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) classifies pesticide product as either unclassified/general or restricted use. General use pesticides can be purchased over the counter, while restricted types can be purchased only by licensed applicators. Pesticide products classified as restricted carry the following statement: “Restricted Use Pesticide” on the front of the label in prominent letters.
  4. Ingredient statement. Pesticide labels list every active ingredient and its percentage in the container. Pesticides are also mixed with inert ingredients. The label shows what percentage of the total content they comprise. Inert ingredients are usually not named: they do not work against the pest; they are added to the product to make it spray out easily, adhere to the plant or dilute the pesticide. The ingredient statement lists the official chemical names and/or common names of the active ingredients. The chemical name is the complex name that identifies the chemical components and structure of the pesticide. The common name is a shorter form of the chemical name.
  5. Signal words and symbols. Each pesticide label includes a signal word. This will give the user an indication of how toxic the product is to humans and animals. The word will be “Caution”, “Warning”, or “Danger” depending on the toxicity of the pesticide, with “Caution” indicating the lowest toxicity, and “Danger” the highest.
  6. First aid or statement of practical treatment. It lists first aid treatments in case of poisoning. Certain companies list an emergency assistance phone number. The label should always be available in case of emergency.
  7. Precautionary statements. The precautionary statement includes the signal word and informs you of what precautions must be taken to protect humans, animals and pets, and the environment from any possible harmful effects. It also indicates which route of entry (skin, eyes, mouth, lungs etc.) is particularly hazardous and in need of protection. This will include wearing protective clothing and equipment as well as other common-sense guidelines. The lack of any statement or the mention of only one piece of equipment does not rule out the need for additional protection.
  8. Hazards. Hazards to humans and domestic animals. The label may indicate effects to wildlife and the environment as well.
    For some chemicals (Neonicotinoid pesticides) there is a new labeling requirement for a bee advisory box. It describes steps that should be taken to better protect bees in the products application. The revised labels include specific limits such as “Do not apply this product while bees are foraging. Do not apply this product until flowering is complete and all petals have fallen ….”
  9. Directions for use. The label has instructions on how to apply the product. The instructions will tell you:
    1. The pests the product will control
    2. The crop, animal, or site the product is intended to protect
    3. The proper equipment to be used
    4. How much to use and how often to apply. Use the amount directed, at the time and under the conditions specified and for the purpose listed. Don’t think that twice the dosage will do twice the job. It won’t.
    5. Mixing instructions
    6. Compatibility with other products
    7. Phytotoxicity or injury to plant and other possible injury
    8. Where and when the product should be applied
    9. Days to harvest (preharvest intervals) or preslaughter intervals: these are the minimum number of days that must pass between the date of the last application and the date to harvest (or animal slaughter). This will allow time for the pesticide to break down in the environment, preventing residues greater than the tolerance on food, feed or animal products.
  10. Storage and disposal. Pesticide labels contain general instructions on how to appropriately store and dispose of pesticides and their containers. Do not dispose of leftover pesticides in dumpsters or during the weekly trash pickup or by pouring them down the drain. Carefully store any remaining pesticides until your community holds a household hazardous waste collection program. For a schedule, call the NH Department of Environmental Services, Waste Management Division, at (603) 271-2942.
  11. Reentry statement. When applicable a reentry statement will be on the label. It will tell how much time must pass before you can reenter a treated area without appropriate protective clothing and equipment.
  12. Manufacturers. It is required by law that the manufacturers or distributors name and address be included on the label.
  13. EPA registration numbers. An EPA registration number must appear on each pesticide label. This will indicate that the pesticide has been registered and had its label approved by the EPA. This number is needed in case of accidental poisoning and provides precise identification of the product.
  14. Establishment numbers. An EPA number must appear on each pesticide label. This number identifies the facility that produced the product in case a problem arises.
  15. Net contents. The net contents refer to the amount contained in the package. Depending on the formulation (liquid or dry), net content is expressed as pounds or ounces for dry formulations or as gallons, quarts or pints for liquids.

Products Without An EPA Registration Label (these are still registered in NH)

Products known as 25(b) products are considered Minimum Risk Pesticides by the EPA and don’t require the same data and review necessary for other pesticides in order to receive registration. Many of these products are naturally derived products, and some of them are organic products. These products also have a label, but the label is not reviewed by the EPA and provides less information about the effect of the product on human health and the environment as well as its efficacy.

Choosing between a 25(b) product and a federally registered product can be challenging, but in general we recommend using the most selective product available, avoiding broad spectrum products whenever possible.

Choosing Your Product

In most cases, you will be able to find multiple products that contain a recommended active ingredient for the pest or disease you would like to control. Just as important as the active ingredient is that the label specifies your specific use in the Directions for Use section. For example, if you are looking for a product to control flea beetles on your potato plants, and have found a product with the active ingredient you are looking for, it needs to specify that one of the pests it controls is flea beetles and that one of the crops it can be used on is potato.

One factor you may consider is how often the product needs to be applied. You may prefer a product that needs to be applied less often. Another factor may be the product’s compatibility with other products. You don’t want to use a product that is incompatible with another product you’re already using.

You may consider how broad spectrum the product is. If you have a choice between a product that only controls a few types of pests, and a product that controls hundreds, we recommend choosing the product that controls fewer pests – as long as the pest that you need to control is one of them.

Another consideration is the product’s toxicity and hazards. You may prefer a product that is less toxic, denoted by the signal word “caution”, to a product that is more toxic, denoted by the signal word “danger”. Likewise, you may take note of the environmental hazards of a product. For example, you may want to avoid the use of a product toxic to birds if you are using the product on a plant that is utilized by birds.

By reading, and even re-reading the product’s label, you should be able to make an informed decision on what product is best for you. Once you’ve chosen your product always remember the Label is the Law and abide by what it says.


Got questions? The Ask UNH Extension Infoline offers practical help finding answers for your home, yard, and garden questions. Call toll free at 1-877-398-4769, Monday to Friday, 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., or e-mail us at



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Got questions? The Ask UNH Extension Infoline offers practical help finding answers for your home, yard, and garden questions.
Call toll free at 1-877-398-4769, Monday to Friday, 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., or e-mail us at


Extension Field Specialist, Community & Economic Development
Phone: (603) 678-4576
Office: Cooperative Extension, Nesmith Hall Room 204, Durham, NH 03824

Extension Field Specialist, Pesticide Safety Education
Phone: (603) 351-3831
Office: UNHCE Education Center, 88 Commercial Street, Manchester, NH 03101